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Finding McQueen

Interview with writer, producer and star Paul D. Wilson followed by a free online screening of the film.
Paul D. Wilson
Paul D. Wilson
Plot synopsis:

While playing the part of film icon Steve McQueen in the story of his life, actor Jack Johnson discovers that he and McQueen both shared a need to connect with their fathers. Trying to maintain the hectic pace of working in the industry, and finding out that his father will soon be moving away and out of his life, Jack is forced to face his feelings about his father’s leaving. This film weaves brief moments of Steve McQueen’s life with the tale of Jack and his father struggling to rediscover their feelings for one another before it’s too late.
MO: Hi Paul, thanks for taking the time to talk with McQueen Online. I really enjoyed the film. It has a great message and it brings McQueen back to the present, which is always rewarding for us fans.

PDW: Hey Darren, thanks for the opportunity to answer a few questions on Finding McQueen. I'm glad you liked the film, and as I said before it was truely a labor of love.

MO: Can you tell me about your background in the film industry?

PDW: My background in the film industry started many years ago in New York where I studied acting. As in Steve's case, I wanted to learn everything I could before I went up in front of any camera as your reputation as an actor proceeds you on every audition. When I move to Los Angeles several years later, I started landing TV commercials like Budweiser, Lexus etc.... At the same time I was doing theater, short films, showcases, anything I could do to be seen. I started landing roles in TV, soaps, and independant films. So I started out in the film industry as an actor.

Movie PosterMO: What inspired you to make a film so intimately related to the life of Steve McQueen?

PDW: The idea that inspired me to make a such an intimate film about McQueen was given to me by one of my teachers who knew McQueen from the old days in New York. He always gave me scripts like A Hatful of Rain which Steve did on broadway. At the time I didn't know it but he planted the seed in my head to really study McQueen, not pretend to be him, but really analyze his technique, as he was well schooled. After seeing every movie he ever made and reading every book I could get on him, I thought it might be time to really see if I had the stuff to pull this off. I didn't want to just play McQueen. I wanted to show a side of him that most people never got a chance to see, the intimate side. I wanted to find what really drove him to success, and I found part of it was his search for his father. Something alot of people can relate to. It made him human, not some idol removed from society. He was human.

MO: What did you do to prepare for the challenge of playing McQueen?

PDW: Preparing for this role wasn't easy. First off I knew that I was either going to be praised or tarred and feathered if it wasn't done right. It could have been embarassing as there were alot of people who knew I was planning this project and were skeptical. Over the course of time I started determining which part of Steve's life I could pull off. Certain scenes like the one with Shooter in The Cincinnati Kid had a lot of energy. I've always loved that scene for the energy and tension. It was McQueen at his best. The script still hadn't been written, so I just studied everything he did and started practicing his character in acting class. People in the class had no idea what I was doing but it really paid off.

MO: You wrote, produced and starred in the film, that must have been a major job! Any reason why you didn't also direct?

PDW: Making a film yourself means you have to wear a lot of hats. In this case I wrote, produced and starrred, Terri directed. I hired Terri because she knew her way around a set. While we were filming I wanted to only concentrate on the character not, "Do we have enough film to finish the scene?" She was good with that. Producing meant that I supplied the money for the shoot, in addition to getting permits, insurance, equipment rental, sound equipment, catering, cameras, wardrobe, motorcycles...everything needed for the shoot as well as setting up post production which is another animal.

Production Still - Jeanne' Sapienza and Paul D. Wilson
Production Still MO: The director, Terri Farley-Tervel, also helped write the screenplay...

PDW: Terri came on board after I had the first draft of the script written and together we re-wrote the version that went to film. We added the story of Jack and Chuck Johnson as a parellel story to show that many people have the same issues with parents that Steve had.

MO: Terri has mentioned that you actually did special weight training to mimick McQueen's slightly sloped back/shoulders...

PDW: As the writing continued so did my work on Steve's character. I spent hours in the gym trying to re-shape my body. I am 6 ft. tall and thin where Steve was slightly shorter and more muscular. I concentrated on my shoulders, upper back and chest to create the slope shoulder Steve had from riding bikes.

MO: Did you also do the casting? I was impressed with the level of acting talent.

PDW: Part of a films success is the cast. It takes more than one person to make a film and you have to have great actors...the very best that you can get. We did cast all of the roles but I have to tell you that alot of the actors were people who I've either worked with before or who were actor friends of mine. Jeanne' Sapienza (Ali) and I were in a class together and a year later I called on her to play the role. Super talented and beautiful. Al Hansen who played my father had worked with Terri on a project and has years of experience. A super guy. Karl Makenin (Shooter), a great friend and actor, suggested Robert David Hall (now on CSI) to play Lucky and he brought his friend who was also an actor. So all were professional actors and a great group to work with, I was honored to work with them all and they all gave it their best.

MO: Was it a smooth shoot? Were you happy with how it panned out?

PDW: Sometimes magic happened. Everytime something like a location fell through, something else opened up. I don't think we knew exactly what we were getting on film because we couldn't afford a playback machine so we had to wing it. Not until I went to DeLuxe labs to pick up the dailies did I know what we had. The guy at the counter said, "Where did you get all that old McQueen film?" When I saw the dailies I knew we had something but exactly what I didn't know. Once people in post saw the dailies more started jumping on board. I spent about nine months in an editing room with my editor looking over 35,000 feet of film trying to boil it down to around 3,000. That's where the film started to come into focus. This may sound unusual but there were many nights where I had dreams about meeting McQueen and other dreams meeting my deceased dad. I took these as a sign that I was doing the right thing. Maybe it was subliminimal. Sometimes it was just magical how things came together. I can't say enough how I felt that Steve would really get a kick out of this little film. I can almost see him smiling as he watches it from above. I felt a real connection with him during this process.

MO: The budget for the film was only $20, 000. That's not much money for a 35 minute film. How did you get around those limitations and still maintain the quality?

PDW: The film cost about $20,000 but that was mainly spent on raw goods that I couldn't get around like film and all of the other things I mentioned under the hat of producing. What was more valuable was the time everyone put into it. Hours and hours of hard work by everyone involved and not one of us made a dime. We all did it because we love film-making. At first we were trying to decide should we go 16mm or 35mm and what we learned was that if we went 35mm we could get more free services but it would cost more up front. I wanted 35mm all along. Once we decide on 35mm we went on faith and it all came together. Pre-production was where we decided to go all or nothing to maintain the quality. Including buying two 1970 Husquavarna motorcyles.

MO: And of course you have a great stunt scene in the film where the two Husquvarna's make a 25 foot jump. Very impressive.

PDW: The race at the end was a real challenge. When we were writing the script it all sounded great but producing it would be something elese. Like the rest of the production things came together. We had a stunt coordinator who found the two bikes and the stunt guy who did the jump, (that's right, sorry to admit it...but 25 feet long and 12 feet high is slightly out of my league not to mention not wearing a helmet and an old bike .) It was all pretty shaky filming the race because at any time someone could've crashed and got hurt. An insurance nightmare. But like everything else it all worked. I think it was meant to be.

MO: The film was screened at the Asheville Film Festival this past November. What was the audiences reception to the film, and did it draw many McQueen fans?

PDW: Finding McQueen was originally screened at Universal Studios, Dreamworks, The Crested Butte Film Festival, PBS television, USC film school and recently at the Asheville Film Festival in North Carolina. The response was the same everywhere we screened. People loved it. Many said it brought back good memories of Steve. Many fans of McQueen showed up at the screenings and seemed to be pleased.

MO: And I'm sure the fans will enjoy this opportunity to watch the film on their PC's. Thanks for sharing Paul, it's been a pleasure.

PDW: Thanks for the interest and I hope everyone enjoys the additional information.

Posters and Still Photographs

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Poster back - Cast and Crew
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